I recently had a session with a couple that I had seen on a number of occasions and I thought that they had worked through most of the issues that brought them to therapy. They were doing really well together and happily planning for their future careers and family. THEN ALONG CAME BABY… and BOOM! Seems like all we had together had slipped through their tired little fingers. Small conflicts erupted into volcanic seizures - sleep was short, patience was pitiful, empathy was out the window, and it seemed like it was each man, woman and baby for themselves. Fortunately, it wasn’t too late, and after a good huddle, they regrouped nicely. But what I re-discovered so clearly was that when infants are colicky or even just a little cranky – the coping tools that individuals have developed to keep themselves sane and their relationships strong slowly slip through the backdoor. Once the adrenaline high of ‘having my baby’ fades - anxiety, fear, and defensiveness can rear their ugly heads. Unfortunately, babies pick up on negative vibes and anxiety quickly and often react by crying…… parents become more anxious and undone, and an avalanche can ensue. I am not saying that colic is caused by parents – what I am saying is that if parents have a hard time coping, and start nattering at each other, the family can quickly come undone. At that point, we work on effecting change at each of the three vertices: baby (look for tools to help soothe baby); parent (make sure that they are meeting their basic individual needs and explore any family of origin issues that make it difficult to cope with having a family of their own); and the couple (finding ways to reconnect and support each other instead of fighting each other for the small piece of sanity that may still exist somewhere in the home).
Back in my parents’ day, one of the more popular remedies for colic was Gripewater. The contents have changed over the years, but when I was a baby, I think that it was 90% alcohol! (o.k. that’s an exaggeration, but it WAS 3.5%). By the time my babies came around, they manufactured preparations either with or without alcohol – but everyone knew that only the one with alcohol worked (at least for a short period of time, until the hangover set in!). I remember talking to a European acquaintance who lived in Toronto. Her Physician told her to drink a bottle of beer before she breastfed her baby – she enjoyed it so much, she had a few. Guess what! She noticed that the baby’s colic disappeared, and they both slept through the night. I don’t think that her doctor mentioned that what goes in mommy’s mouth comes out in mommy’s milk, and that baby was probably pickled! I was impressed with the results….. but definitely not a remedy that I was willing to consider.
Going back to the couple that was falling apart with the stress of their colicky baby. They brought the baby into the session, and I could see a dynamic that had unfolded in my own home many times several decades ago. It goes like this: baby starts off in mom’s arms; baby cries; mom is exhausted and hands baby to dad; it is not as easy for dad to settle baby because he does not have the same comfortable breasts that baby has gotten used to snuggling; mom makes some suggestions of how to settle baby and dad becomes a little more exasperated because her strategies don’t work for him and mom has interrupted his techniques – which would probably work if given a little more time. Eventually, the full-on wailing baby is given back to mom for some more food because that seems to be the only way to now comfort baby at the height of the crying jag.
Back in the day, I fashioned myself as somewhat of a Baby Whisperer – a skill that was learned at the heels of my mother. She taught me how to swaddle and cuddle and soothe a colicky baby – using rhythm and voice and soft song. Neither of us have voices that anyone other than a baby would actually WANT to hear sing – but we made up songs using their names (which I believed that my genius babies recognized in their first week of life) and rhythms that were gutturally appealing. I then went on to hone my techniques by applying my training in hypnosis to the process by ‘encouraging’ my babies to relax, settle, and sleep through both verbal and nonverbal modalities (breathe, touch, movement). One of the most critical elements is patience; this is not to be tried by the easily frustrated or by those who have a difficult time containing escalating levels of adrenaline. My mother was the most special person I know - I wish that everyone had a mother like her to teach them about parenting and about life. Unfortunately, we are not always as lucky – and sometimes, the special people in our lives are gone before we have our own children. So we have to search for doulas, classes, friends, and professionals to fill in. AND THEN – we have to let go of our innate defensiveness so that we can take the advice of others (even though we think that we SHOULD KNOW BETTER – after all, we ARE the parent!).
After my session with the clients, I thought to myself – ‘it would be great if mom and dad could learn common soothing techniques that they could use with baby (from someone who had a variety of tools in their handbag)’. Moreover, when it comes from a ‘teacher’, the defensiveness is low. And that’s when I thought about offering a Yoga class for parents and infants. In fact, one definition of Yoga is union – and what better way to unite parents and child. Through Yoga, we learn breathing techniques that can be used to de-escalate anxiety and adrenaline (parents, that is). That is the first step to soothing a colicky baby (we tell newly graduated doctors to take their own pulse rates before they jump into an Code Blue – it’s the same type of idea). Eventually, parents who are connected to their children can pace and lead their child to a more relaxed state. We will be running Yoga classes for parents and infants at our offices – both for technique and for the opportunity to connect with other parents of newborns. Sari Levitt is a seasoned Yoga teacher and an Occupational Therapist who has worked with many children (including her own toddler twins). She will be running the classes as well as Yoga for Toddlers in January at our office – check out our website at www.mindmattersclinic.ca for more info.